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Locals band together to make dream come true for cancer survivor

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Shelby Foreman from Oklahoma was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) three years ago, which began a journey that led her family to Minnesota where local communities came together to make her dream of getting a black bear come true.

Shelby’s diagnosis was as unexpected as its results.

“It was around that time we thought she had a stomach virus. We didn’t know what was going on. Then they did quite a bit of blood work,” said Tonya Foreman, Shelby’s mother.

Shelby, now 14, went through intensive chemotherapy treatments. There were ups and downs, including surgeries and chemical-induced meningitis, but Shelby has been in early remission since 16 days after her diagnosis in June 2010.

“We believe that came from all the prayers from everyone. Really, in this situation, social media was a huge help just because we were able to get the information out quick,” Tonya said.

When Shelby was diagnosed with ALL, her family put out the word through social media and online forums like the Auction Arms forum. Her story spread like wildfire. Before long, Shelby, then 11, was receiving prayers and encouragement from people all over the nation, including Jay Lindmeyer of Backus.

Lindmeyer was moved by Shelby’s story. He and other forum members gathered together and invited Shelby and her family to Minnesota two years ago.

“I did meet them once before, and Shelby had no hair. She was in bad shape then,” Lindmeyer said.

While the Foreman family got to know Lindmeyer and the other forum members, he told them stories and showed photos from Minnesota bear hunts. Shelby, an avid hunter, said she would like to try bear hunting, and a plan began forming in Lindmeyer’s mind. He told Shelby they would get a bear just as soon as she was feeling better, but it was going to take a lot of help.

“I just called all the people I know that are involved in bear hunting — bait people, the (Backus) Locker, taxidermy — they were all on board, no questions asked. They were in,” Lindmeyer said. “Everybody was real good about it.”

Though Shelby was virtually unknown in the area, everywhere he looked, people were willing to lend a hand in making Shelby’s dream come true.

Day Excavating allowed hunting on private land. Darrel and Tracy Walkenhauer lined up lodging at Boyd’s Lodge in Crosslake, which put them up in a lake cabin. The Pine River Bakery donated baked goods. Jim’s Camper Sales and Pequot Tool and Manufacturing donated money. The Old Milwaukee Club and Jr’s No. 19 donated meals for the family. Pine River Game and Fish Club sponsored a bear license. Jeff Dingman from Buckman donated the bait of cookie dough and maraschino cherries. And then-DNR conservation officer Nikki Shoutz put in leg work to get Shelby an exception for a license.

Bear licenses are awarded on a lottery basis. Even though Shelby applied for a non-resident bear license, she had no guarantee of getting one. But the Minnesota Legislature recently passed a law to make exceptions for individuals with potentially fatal illnesses. Shoutz not only asked the state to consider Shelby for the exception, but also applied for her own bear license in Lindmeyer’s hunting zone just in case Shelby was denied. The new law also allows a hunter with a license to donate his or her license.

“I would have been willing to do that. Like I told the DNR, I’ve already had successful bear hunts,” Shoutz said.

With the sponsorship of nonprofit organization Midwest Outdoors International, Shelby was granted the exception and given a license, though she wasn’t selected for the license lottery.

With the help of countless individuals stretching from Backus to Pequot Lakes and beyond, Shelby had everything she needed for a successful bear hunt. Shelby and family came back to Minnesota on Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1, Lindmeyer led her to a bear feed spot that had seen action only a half-hour earlier. Shoutz and Shelby’s family stayed behind at a nearby camp, and almost six hours later, as the legal window for hunting was only 20 minutes from closing, they heard a single shot.

“It was very exciting to be around bear camp with her mom and dad and sister and brother and the other folks. When we heard that shot it was so exciting,” Shoutz said.

In the waning hours of opening day, Shelby had shot a 176-pound black bear. Lindmeyer escorted the family to Backus and revealed more surprises. The Backus Meat Locker had agreed to process the bear for free, Spring’s Taxidermy from Hackensack agreed to make a rug from the bear for free, and Roger’s Family Trucking donated shipment of the processed bear back to Oklahoma.

“It felt absolutely wonderful. There is such a reward in helping someone who needs it. It is no longer a money issue, it becomes something you do as a gift from the heart. Something you do for somebody else that’s special. It felt wonderful,” said Jan Schmid of the locker.

“There were just a bunch of great people. We are very thankful. The whole community was just unbelievable from Pequot Lakes to Backus,” said Shelby’s father, Kenny Foreman. “We were blown away how that community just gathered around Shelby and our family.”

“What that community and what Jay has done has really given us life and a new beginning. This is a new beginning and a new chapter for bucket lists for Shelby. It’s not if or when she gets better, it’s now. This is what we’re going to be doing from here on out,” Tonya said.

Of the countless individuals who made Shelby’s dream come true, perhaps none was more excited to see all the efforts come to fruition than Lindmeyer. While Lindmeyer and the other contributors were working on Shelby’s bear hunt, tragedy struck close to home when Lindmeyer’s wife passed away.

Shoutz and other contributors say Lindmeyer’s efforts only increased. Shelby’s hunt helped him to look forward to something and gave him something to focus on. When Shelby shot her bear, he was next to her, and he said the feeling was indescribable.

“There really aren’t any words for it. When she shot that bear and gave me that big ol’ smile. On a scale from one to 10 — 200,” Lindmeyer said. “There’s nothing better. Everybody should do it once. Take someone like that hunting or fishing, camping or something. I just can’t describe it. I’ve really never had a feeling like that before.”

As for Shelby, a reserved girl of few words, she described the hunt as “exciting” and her time in the area as “really cool.” She said her next goal is to hunt moose, perhaps in Alaska.

Whatever she does, it is clear that she has the support of lots of family, even some she didn’t have until just three years ago.

Shelby’s hunt is on YouTube with her name as the title.